GOP: Preventing violence against women in detention centers is a “luxury”

From the Friday indignation files. When faced with report after report that recounts the inhumane conditions at ICE detention centers, some Republican lawmakers are arguing that remedying these horrific conditions is unnecessary.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on the Judiciary convened a hearing on the conditions at the Department of Homeland Security’s immigrant detention centers.

Making perhaps the least funny joke I’ve ever heard, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) , chairman of the Judiciary Committee called the hearing, “Holiday on ICE.”

The hearing was held in response to the Obama administration rules intended to prevent sexual abuse and inhumane conditions at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities. According to Rep. Smith, the rules which were released in February, make ICE detention centers akin to luxury resorts and time there akin to a vacation.

In 2008, the Washington Post published an in-depth investigation of the inhumane conditions at ICE detention centers. In some cases, like in Texas’ Willacy County, ICE was forced to cancel it contract with a detention center there after repeatedly surfacing “allegations of sexual assaults, immigrant smuggling, spoiled food, and protests.” A 2011 Frontline report found that these conditions were made worse due to Obama administration policies that exempt immigration detention centers from the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The new standards for ICE detention centers were unveiled in February. They are meant to offer measures and regulations that would ensure a basic threshold for human rights. As reported in the  Los Angeles Times explained, “Among other things, the new rules improve access to mental health care and legal assistance, and establish additional safeguards for reporting mistreatment.” They also recommend the establishment of a hotline for immigrants to report abuse, as well as   requirement for strip searches to be conducted by guards of the same gender.

Sounds pretty basic, right. Well, not if you’re in the business of denying humanity to immigrants. Get a load of some of the retorts made at the hearings.

“It’s outrageous that immigration detention facilities have morphed into college campuses.” —  Rep. Elton Gallegy (R-CA.).

“Under this administration, detention looks more like recess,”  – Rep. Lamar Smith (R- TX ).

“110 deaths is not alarming to me.” — Rep. Steve King (R-IA), explaining that immigrants were actually safer in an ICE detention center than they were “in the broader society.”

And at this point, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D- CA) stepped in to counter some of the unbridled foolishness, and to call the hearing out for what it really was:

“This hearing demonstrates the Republican Party’s war on immigrants, and here we see where this war meets the war on women…I don’t think that it’s a ‘hospitality’ guideline to prevent rape of detainees.”

In closing, a powerful account from author and activist Edwidge Danticat, whose uncle died in detention in 2004:

The flippant title of the hearing shows a blatant disregard for the more than 110 people who have died in immigration custody since 2003. One of them was my uncle Joseph, an 81-year-old throat cancer survivor who spoke with an artificial voice box. He arrived in Miami in October 2004 after fleeing an uprising in Haiti. He had a valid passport and visa, but when he requested political asylum, he was arrested and taken to the Krome detention center in Miami. His medications for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate were taken away, and when he fell ill during a hearing, a Krome nurse accused him of faking his illness. When he was finally transported, in leg chains, to the prison ward of a nearby hospital, it was already too late. He died the next day.

My uncle’s brief and deadly stay in the United States immigration system was no holiday. Detention was no holiday for Rosa Isela Contreras-Dominguez, who was 35 years old and pregnant when she died in immigration custody in Texas in 2007. She had a history of blood clots, and said her complaints regarding leg pains were ignored. It was no holiday for Mayra Soto, a California woman who was raped by an immigration officer. It was no holiday for Hiu Lui Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese immigrant with a fractured spine who was dragged on the floor and refused the use of a wheelchair in an ICE detention center in Rhode Island.

I’d go one step further: not only are these not “holidays,” they are human rights violations. And they are happening in our name.

Join the Conversation

  • Ellen

    If the expectation of not being raped is a “luxury” or something you expect on vacation, then pretty much every woman in America is on a luxury cruise right now. Everyday, we all have the knowledge that somewhere in the back of our minds that we’re vulnerable to being raped. If someone knocked on my door right now, I’d peer around the curtain, get my dog and maybe a gun. I’m always looking around when I go out alone. Its an unkind fact of life that we all know that we’re vulnerable to rape.

    But we all have the expectation that if someone does rape us, that something will be done about it (whether that’s true or not). We know intellectually that rape is wrong and rape is a crime; that people don’t have the right to do this to us. The fact that we’re protected from rape and violence is not a luxury, it’s a basic right as a human being. It’s curious that in this instance, certain people are automatically protected under the law, but when it comes to immigrants, it’s simply too much trouble.

  • John

    As an MRA, I support any changes that improve the lives or living conditions of people, but I do have to point out that at least the male prisoners in our jails aren’t protected from cross gender strip searches or surveillance in intimate situations. I know a year or two ago the 9th circuit recently ruled in favor of a male prisoner being strip searched by a female guard, but I don’t think they ruled it unconstitutional. I think that had more to do with the individual circumstances of the case, which made it egregious. Many institutions and many judicial rulings have found that women need special protection and have afforded them such, but recent events indicate that female guards have used the lack of protections for male prisoners to abuse them.

    I don’t think being undocumented makes you less human. I don’t think being male makes you less human either. Some of the feminists in the on-line community I frequent decry the lack of male voices in the feminist movement. They think the MRA complaint that feminism is not an equality movement is our fault because we don’t speak out in feminist circles and so feminists don’t hear about male concerns. I suspect that they’re wrong, but respect them enough to take the time to prove it.